Deadline passes for city assistant applications

With the application deadline for a newly created Assistant to the City Manager position passing on Feb. 5, the process of gradually whittling down a pool of 26 applicants began this week.

“It’s going to be a very difficult decision,” said City Manager Richard Meyers.

The city began advertising for the position near the end of last month, eliciting not only a strong response of applicants, but curiosity from local residents.

The seemingly sudden creation of a new position with the city has had many in the community scratching their heads as to why such a person is needed — much less during a period of economic strain.

The position has been in the city’s budget for the last two years, but has not been opened to applicants until now. A primary motivator for its creation, said Meyers, is an impending exodus of several key staff positions over the next several years.

“We’re losing almost all of our administrative staff in the next year or two, maybe three,” he said. “That’s a huge, huge hit when many of the people that are leaving have 35 or 25 years in local government and all of a sudden we have nothing in the community but new people.”

At least one of those positions is opening up later this year and Meyers’ own position is included in the list.

Though no precise date has been set, he said he could see his retirement coming within the next year or two.

In order to see a more seamless transition with the several positions, Meyers reasons that an assistant will be able to serve in a broad capacity, picking up any slack where learning curves may provide challenges to new hires.

It’s partially in this broad capacity that the job description is based.

The new assistant will work directly for the city manager and responsibilities will include coordinating citywide communication efforts, compiling information and statistical data, preparing reports, reviewing and analyzing operational activities, policies and procedures, managing special projects, coordinating specific programs, assisting with implementation of new programs, systems of procedures and responding to resident inquiries.

“The specific definition of what the assistant will be doing will be anything that is assigned him or her from the city manager,” said Meyers, half-jokingly.

Aside from these general needs of the city, Meyers said an increasing demand for communications and HR (human resources) tasks has stretched beyond his own capacity to handle.

“One of the areas that I’d love to be able to get a better handle on — and I just don’t have the time to do any more — is our online presence,” he said.

For instance, the city has added a virtual element to its public meetings which it intends to continue past the current socially-distanced paradigm.

“So those kinds of things are all things that are adding up. … They’re straws on the camel’s back. It’s the accumulation of it that is substantial,” said Meyers. “The complexities of managing an organization have grown.”

The position is intended to become a permanent fixture of Cottage Grove city staff and was advertised as a providing a salary of about $70,000 to $90,000, depending on qualifications.

“We’ve created a salary and range chart for the city that breaks out every position and puts them in a range regardless of who’s in the position,” said Meyers of determining the assistant’s salary. “This is what that job is worth to us and where it fits. The salary for this position is below a department head unless the department head is brand new.”

Qualifications for the job include three years of progressively responsible experience managing or supervising operations, programs, budgets and services, preferably in the municipal or private sector environment. A master’s degree is also preferred.

Attaining the assistant position, however, does not ensure that the assistant will be the next city manager.

While Meyers himself will make the final call on the assistant hire, the Cottage Grove City Council votes in the city manager.

“I do want to make it clear that this does not mean this person is going to be the next city manager,” said Meyers. “That’s a decision the council has to make when that comes up.”

In helping decide from among the more than two dozen applicants for the assistant position, Mey-ers said he is enlisting the help of other staff and department heads to narrow the list.

The applicants will be issued a “homework assignment” which addresses real projects and policies the city is working on.

“We’ll get it back and say, ‘How did they do? What process did they use? Did they do a good job? Is there a lot of editing that I’m going to have to do to clean it up?’” Meyers explained. “Those kinds of things will be valuable in that process.”

The applicant pool is reportedly made up of both local and out-of-area candidates, some as far as Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Locally, some buzz has stirred around the verification of former Councilor Jake Boone throwing his hat in the ring.

Boone stepped down from his decade-long council position last Thursday (Feb. 4) in order to apply for the position.

Amid speculation that the city would play favorites and Boone’s hiring is a foregone conclusion, Meyers countered that all applicants are currently being considered.

“The city has not made up its mind. I have not made up my mind at all yet,” said Meyers.

The range of experience among the candidate pool is vast, Meyers said, pointing to several diverse examples.

“A number from Cottage Grove and local residents have applied and some of them have less experience in government, but they’ve got some real interesting experience in the private sector,” he said. “We’ve got some others that have been in the city manager’s office in other states or other places. And some that have had some experience in operation and management of broadband and technology.”

On top of on-paper qualifications and experience, Meyers said personality will also be a big factor in finding the right fit.

It’s hoped that a short list of around 10 applicants will form by the end of this week, at which point the “homework assignments” will begin.

If all goes according to plan, Cottage Grove will see the assistant position filled sometime in March.

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